Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Lakers at the 10-game mark: Judge away
By Dave McMenamin
If the president gets an initial report card only 7 percent of the way into his term, it's certainly not too early to assess how the Lakers look after their 4-6 start.
DENVER -- Whenever a new president is elected, a grace period is granted for 100 days before the public and the press weigh in with the first report card on his progress.
A presidential term is four years, or 1,460 days, so the initial grading period that ends up setting the tone for the entire term of many commanders in chief actually comes quite quickly, after only about 7 percent of their time in office has been served.
With that in mind, judging the Los Angeles Lakers now that they have played 10 games following their 111-99 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, or 12 percent of their 82-game schedule, is a totally appropriate time to do so.
So, what do the Lakers have to say about themselves after their 4-6 start?
"It tells you something," said Pau Gasol. "I don't know if there are final conclusions, but we're a team that is trying to figure out a way how to play better and win more games. We've been a little bit inconsistent, up and down. We just got to make sure our effort and energy is there at all times and that's how we're going to be in a better position."
So far, the energy and effort looked the worst in that 47-point first quarter the Lakers surrendered to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.
Coach Mike D'Antoni tried to address it by shuffling the deck with his sixth starting lineup combination of the season the next game and it worked, with Jordan Hill and Wesley Johnson giving the team an early spark in the Lakers' blowout win over the New Orleans Pelicans. D'Antoni went back to Hill (18 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks against Denver) and Johnson (10 points, five rebounds, five blocks, three steals) on Wednesday, and, while they performed, L.A. fell back into the losing ledger.
Does Johnson have an explanation for it?
"Honestly, right now, I can't tell you," he said. "We're trying to find that identity for ourselves really on the defensive end and the offensive end. Just trying to really figure it out. We switched the lineups a whole lot, so it's very hard for us to have an identity. We're just trying to figure it out."
Fair enough. It's not as if the president would be switching up his vice president, secretary of state and the rest of his cabinet on a night-to-night basis.
"Maybe you want to give it more time," Steve Blake said. "Time will tell."
But are the Lakers able to be patient with everything coming together, while still keeping a sense of urgency?
"The urgency is every night," Blake said. "That has to be there. No doubt about it. But we have things to work on and hopefully we can figure it out sooner than later."
Some things have been figured out just by watching these guys, even if the Lakers are still doing some soul searching as a group.
The things we do know?
They can't win on the second night of back-to-backs, going 0-3 so far and losing those games by an average of 17.7 points. All three of those games came on the road, where they are nearly as bad overall, going 1-4 away from Staples Center.
They struggle late in games. They were up 15 on the San Antonio Spurs, only to lose by six; ahead by 21 against the Atlanta Hawks, only to win by just two; leading the Houston Rockets by 19, only to pull out a one-point victory thanks to a game-winning 3-pointer; down three with three minutes to go in New Orleans before losing by 11; and down four heading into the fourth in Denver, only to see the deficit balloon to double digits less than four minutes into that final quarter.
"Those are things that when Kobe [Bryant] comes back will be taken care of," D'Antoni said of their final-frame frets. "We have to do a better job of finding solutions and finding guys that are going to step up. We need to hit shots as a team."
Nick Young, one of the players the Lakers brought in to do his best Bryant impression while No. 24 is sidelined, said all the Lakers are missing is an extra play or two.
"We are figuring it out game by game," said Young, who scored in double digits for the fourth time in four games coming off the bench while registering none of his 12 points in the fourth. "We're just about a point away. We got down by three, next thing you know they have fast breaks and we are down by 10. Somehow we have to figure how to make a few plays when we get that close."
The team is deeper than it has been in a while, with nine players averaging eight points or more. The Lakers can shoot the long ball, ranking seventh in the league in 3-point percentage and third in total makes from beyond the arc. They will, presumably, welcome Bryant and Steve Nash back to the lineup at some point and have two Hall of Fame-bound guards to help them close out those close contests.
"It's a marathon," D’Antoni said. "It's not something you can [say], 'Oh, let's cure that tomorrow.' That's not going to happen."